Thursday, 15 March 2018

TV Review - Blake's 7: S4E05 Animals

Season 4 continues to run on the spot with the fifth and final contribution from the much-maligned but actually genuinely awful Allan Prior. It's clear that at least early on Vere Lorrimer and Chris Boucher were concerned more with seasoned pros who could turn in a script on time than in exploring a brave new direction. Prior's debut "Horizon" was poor and since then "Hostage", "The Keeper" and "Volcano" have seen a decline. So the signs for a script originally written with a major role for Cally in a format that's still like quicksand by possibly the series' worst writer is not exactly a recipe for success. 

The crux of the plot concerns Dayna and Tarrant chasing down the former's tutor Justin, an expert genetic engineer, as the latest hoped-for ally for the Scorpio crew. When she meets up with him on Bucol-2 he's engineered a race of human-animal hybrids intended as radiation-proof soldiers; left alone on the planet after the rest of the scientists were killed he now hopes to use them to rebuild. It's not the worst plot idea the series has ever had; obviously the animals themselves look awful but if you're doing it in order they're more credible than the Space Rats or Hommiks. 

But there are big problems. The decision to make Justin a former lover of Dayna's is poorly thought out; presumably he was going to be someone Cally met either on Auron or after leaving but here that means he tutored her a few years back; Josette Simon was 21 at the time of filming and you couldn't really argue that Dayna was much more than 24-25. Given that Dayna was an infant when the Mellanbys fled to Sarran and Justin hasn't seen her for more than six years; the idea of the silver-haired scientist visiting the blind exile's home to bang his (at best) teen daughter is seriously creepy. Even without the figures being out there (some of which are actually introduced in "Animals", why the Hell not keep the timeframe so vague or throw in a line about how she'd last seen him a month or so before "Aftermath"? Why tie him down on Bucol-2?) there are plenty of less squeamish ways do make it work (say, have Justin as a long-term crush of Dayna's and him as a caring tutor). It smacks of bad editing on the whole, we're probably lucky no-one calls her Cally.

This is Dayna's episode of the year to shine and Josette fucks it, to be blunt. It's not a great part, what with her getting captured by Servalan and mentally programmed to first hate and then love him but her inexperience shows when she has to get these emotions across. It's like something out of a drama class, you can almost imagine a middle-aged woman in a black leotard calling out facial expressions, and Avon has every right to be embarrassed and indifferent when she's wailing over Justin's body at the end. Everyone else is at least a little better, with Tarrant and Avon again ganging up on Vila, and Paul Darrow's settling down a bit. Soolin again though just sort of tags along, feeding lines to everyone else. It might actually have been better to somehow mash her fluid backstory (which at this point is that at some point she or someone else decided she should be called Soolin and that she can handle a gun) into the plot. It can't have been an attempt to bribe Josette into staying on as everyone hated Dayna, her included.

Justin would otherwise be an interesting character. It's nice to see someone argue the case as to whether Avon's methods and objective are right and there's a bit of debate over whether genetic engineering can be justified but the other problems - him being a pervert - undermine it a bit. Dayna getting conditioned easily is a bit awful too and where Servalan gets the kit from and where it goes afterwards is an odd thing and, well, Dayna gets her brain washed twice. At the end it's not the qualified old feelings she shows at the start for Justin which are immediately called into question by his ethics, she's been brainwashed by the woman who shot her dad into unconditionally loving an older man who seems to have taken advantage of her isolation in her youth and then Servalan kills him as well. It'd be fantastically bleak if there was any particular sign it was done on purpose and she wasn't going to be back to rolling her eyes at Vila saying something dumb next week.

Again, it's the sloppy production that stops "Animals" being an adequate episode. Everything just needs another pass, another take, a little bit more thought. Yeah, B7 has never been the most polished of shows but it's never been this careless - it makes crap costumes, wobbly sets and plot holes a lot less forgivable if the characterisation and acting aren't there to distract you from it all. It's five episodes into the season now and it's getting very frustrating; yes, the production side of things was a nightmare but it hardly makes watching a show that a few episodes ago gave us stuff with as many layers as "Rumours of Death" and "Terminal". In some respects, such as the performance of the main cast and the general dialogue, it's a minor upturn (Josette Simon aside) and the plot at least has a little ambition and a little grey discourse. And the shoot-out at the end isn't bad. But it's still not anything special by a long reach.

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